Dogs help seniors with cognitive function and social interaction
The familiar adage “pets are good for your health” Dogs help seniors is an interesting but largely untested theory. A new model was developed, based on pet ownership leads to better self care, to show possible associations between pet ownership with eating, exercise, nutritional status, and specific cardiovascular risk factors. Seniors aged sixty and above were solicited mainly at senior congregate meals program sites in north-central Colorado (n = 127) to participate in this cross-sectional, observational study. Statistical analyses of questionnaire, anthropometries, physiological, and biochemical data were performed. Dog owners walked significantly longer than non-owners, and pet owners had significantly lower serum triglycerides than non-owners. Results suggest that pets may be good for your health.
The Benefits of Pet Ownership for the Elderly
Animals can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase social interaction and physical activity. Pets provide other intangibles, too. “Dogs and cats live very much in the present,” says Dr. Jay P. Granit, a New Jersey-based psychotherapist. “They don’t worry about tomorrow, which can be a very scary concept for an older person. An animal embodies that sense of here and now, and it tends to rub off on people.”
Pets can also have an astounding effect on symptoms of depression and feelings of loneliness. “Older pet owners have often told us how incredibly barren and lonely their lives were without their pets’ companionship, even when there were some downsides to owning an active pet,” says Linda Anderson, who founded the Angel Animals Network in Minneapolis with her husband, Allen, to spread awareness of the benefits of pet ownership.
Marjorie and Richard Douse couldn’t agree more. Soon after the Douses retired, they adopted Bonnie, a golden retriever puppy who quickly became an indispensable member of the family. “We never felt alone when Bonnie was in the house. As we aged and tended to go out less, she provided us with loving companionship,” say her owners. Bonnie’s outgoing personality enhanced the lives of other seniors as well. The Douses took her to visit aging relatives in a nearby nursing home, and she was a hit with the residents and staff alike.
Our furry, feathered, finned, scaled and shelled animal friends may do more than bring us emotional comfort.
Owning a pet for over five years may help keep cognitive skills sharp as you age, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Florida, University of Michigan and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The researchers found that adults ages 50 or older who had owned any kind of pet for more than five years showed slower decline in verbal memory — being able to recall words, for example — over time compared to non-pet owners.
“We can’t show that this is causal but it does show that pets could buffer or have a protective effect on older adults’ cognition and we think it has to do with some of the mechanism related to stress buffering,” said Jennifer Applebaum, a doctoral candidate in sociology and National Institutes of Health predoctoral Fellow at the University of Florid. Applebaum is the lead author of the study.
Applebaum said the researchers are not recommending pet ownership as a therapeutic intervention. However, “an unwanted separation from a pet can be devastating for an owner and marginalized populations are most at-risk of these unwanted outcomes,” she said. “We do recommend that people who own pets be supported in keeping them via public policy and community partnerships.”
Among policies that could be considered: reducing or eliminating pet fees in rental housing, foster or boarding support during times of health crisis or other emergencies and free or low-cost veterinary care for low-income owners.
This is the first study to examine the impact of pet ownership over time on cognitive function among a national sample of U.S. adults ages 50 or older. The 1,300 people studied are participants in the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal survey that is tracking 20,000 adults in the U.S. to learn about aging-related issues.
Read More: Dogs have 18 muscles controlling their ears
What is cognitive dysfunction, and how is it diagnosed?
It is generally believed that a dog or cat’s cognitive function tends to decline with age, much as it does in people. If your dog or cat has one or more of the signs below and all potential physical or medical causes have been ruled out, it may be due to cognitive dysfunction. Of course, it is also possible that cognitive dysfunction can arise concurrently with other medical problems, so that it might be difficult to determine the exact cause of each sign.
Traditionally, the acronym DISHA has been used to describe the signs associated with cognitive dysfunction. DISHA refers to Disorientation, Interactions that have been altered between pets and their family members or other pets, Sleep-wake cycle changes, House soiling, and Activity Level changes. With further research into brain aging in dogs and cats, behaviorists have recognized additional signs associated with cognitive dysfunction. An updated list of signs associated with cognitive dysfunction includes:
• Disorientation – Such as getting lost in familiar areas, not recognizing familiar people, and going to the wrong side of the door.
• Interactions – Social interactions might be altered between the pet and owner or pet and other pets; some pets may appear to be more clingy, while others might be disinterested or even irritable when petted or approached.
• Sleep-wake cycle changes – Your pet may sleep more during the day, wake at nights, or have irregular sleep-wake cycles. The acronym DISHA has been used to describe the signs associated with cognitive dysfunction.
Dogs act as companions who provide us with emotional and physical support. Their shorter lifespans compel us to learn about the challenges and gifts of caring for older individuals. Our companion dogs can be exemplars of healthy or unhealthy aging, and sentinels of environmental factors that might increase or decrease our own healthy lifespan. In recent years, the field of aging has emphasized not just lifespan,
but health span—the period of healthy, active lifespan. This focus on healthy, active aging is reflected in the World Health Organization’s current focus on healthy aging for the next decade and the 2016 Healthy Aging in Action initiative in the US. This paper explores the current research into aging in both people and companion dogs, and in particular, how the relationship between older adults and dogs impacts healthy, active aging for both parties. The human-dog relationship faces many challenges as dogs, and people, age.
We discuss potential solutions to these challenges, including suggestions for ways to continue contact with dogs if dog ownership is no longer possible for an older person. Future research directions are outlined in order to encourage the building of a stronger evidence base for the role of dogs in the lives of older adults.